"Where's the witch?" a man dressed in pilgrim clothing demanded of another "did she come this way?"
This man was being followed by several others, all large crowd armed with pitchforks and lit torches, behind the men were the women and older children who had joined in pursuit of the illusive witch who had been spotted not ten minutes ago.
"What does she look like?" the man being asked queried.
"The description was a young lady of average height, brown hair and eyes and she was seen stealing the life of a young man, close to your age I believe," the man described, although the speech was clearly practiced.
"I did see a young woman like that a few moments ago," the man turned with sudden worry in his voice and turned to point in the direction from which he had just come "she went this way, I didn't see her turn, she may be headed for the woods. Hurry or she'll escape."
"Not this time," the man said under his breath "towards the wood!"
The crowd followed angrily and enthusiastically, weapons in hands lifted into the air and collectively screaming random, nonsensical chants as they marched.
The young man moved to the side, walking along the slim path the crowd gave him to move in the opposite direction. He stopped when a young boy blocked his path, looking up to him in some kind of wonderment.
"Where are you going mister?" he said, "the witch is that way. Aren't you coming to kill her?"
The man bent down to the junior and smiled.
"I don't believe one should die because they live…differently," he said, a sad smile across his face "but we all live by what we think is right. Just promise me, if you find that someone can be saved, do what you can. OK?"
The boy looked confused for a moment, but then began to nod quickly with a smile. The man smiled back, happier, he then let the boy run off to re-join his group.
The man continued to walk away, he looked back to see that the crowd had disappeared and then hurriedly snuck into a dark alleyway.
With his back pressed tight against a wall, the man breathed in deeply as things began to change. His hair grew longer and darker until they were like chocolate, the stubble on his chin retracted back into softer, paler skin, his eyes drained of blue and blurred into a dark green, his throat shrank as his chest enlarged, his waist tucked itself in to make the hips larger and his rugged, dirty clothes bellowed out into a dirty, old dress.
The young woman described earlier sank down the wall breathed in harder, tears streaming down her face. She had distracted the townspeople for a while, but they would soon wise up, especially if they decided not to follow 'her' into the woods.
"Trouble dear?" a croaking voice echoed from the darkness.
She snapped her head upwards and her eyes shot from wall to wall in fear.
"Relax…" the voice soothed "I know exactly who and what you are, and what you've been forced to deal with."
Amongst the fear in her eyes, the young witch felt hope flutter in her stomach, but it could be fear too.
"Who are you?" she called, her voice shaky "where are you?"
A cloud of black smoke erupted from the ground in front of her feet and a woman, old and cloaked in black, stood before her. The young witch dragged her dress up into her hands and desperately clutched her knees to her chest in shock and fear.
"Do not fear me, my child," she spoke softly "I am here to help you, not hurt you."
The younger steeled her eyes, preparing herself.
"How can I trust you?" she asked "how can I trust that you know me or how to help you, if I believe you really want to."
"I supposed you'll just have to take a leap of faith, won't you…" she smiled "Azaria."
Azaria's eyes widened in horror at the name she was given at birth.
"Or do you really prefer Rose?" the old woman asked, "personally, I think Azaria suits you…divinely."
"Wha-wha- who are you?" Azaria stuttered. The old witch sighed.
"My name isn't important, but if you must know, it's Jezebel-"
"Jezebel!" Azaria rose and backed away "Evil woman!"
"A name, deary, is not a person, my name is evil, but what about yours?" she stepped closer "Witch. It sounds evil doesn't it? But are you evil Rose? Azaria? What does a name really mean?"
Azaria was silent. She kept her head down, her eyes glazed over with guilt and troubles. She looked back up to Jezebel's cold yet inviting face.
"But I don't want to be a witch," Azaria claimed, "you appear happy to be Jezebel and that's fine, but I don't want to be a witch."
"…then don't." jezebel retorted quietly.
Azaria was silent for a moment. As though she couldn't understand the words.
"Stop. Just stop being a witch," Jezebel continued entirely nonchalantly.
"C-can I?" Azaria asked, unsure of if to trust her words.
"Of course not!" she howled, "you were born a witch! You can't simply stop!"
Jezebel breathed in to calm herself; she turned to hide her rage, but turned again with a calmer expression.
"But…you don't really want to stop being a witch," Jezebel announced. Azaria was taken aback at the accusation, as though it were an insult to her very nature "if you didn't want to be a witch, you wouldn't have used your magic and started this witch hunt in the first place and then you wouldn't have needed to use magic again to escape them. You like magic, you just don't want to be the one that burns!"
Azaria looked back down at the ground, accepting what she had been told, but then she looked up again with determination in her eyes.
"Can't I stop? Ever?" she asked. Jezebel looked at her in complete seriousness, as though she was deciding whether or not to tell her, she decided as she closed her eyes.
Azaria's eyes looked hopeful as Jezebel reached into her cloak and removed a piece of parchment with a long incantation delicately detailed onto it.
"It's a spell," Jezebel explained, "read this and you will be stripped of your powers, but be warned, there is no return."
Azaria looked down, but again her determination shone through.
She began to read.
I am the Body.
The power that channels all that is Godly.
I bide my form into the light,
For none can surpass the Earth's might.
My soul corrupt, my mind lost,
My body strong, if that the cost.
I bind my strength and thus my place,
For it's the body whose path cannot be misplaced.
I pass my power unto another
And so protect said child's mother,
With love, with hate,
Through friends and mate.
My life and force here cannot maintain,
So pass and wait the power of Terrain!
To great behemoths, I surrender all that I bound
Until the time and place for me is found.
By the words of the Sisters, the promised hours,
I grant the strength of my Pagan Powers!
As soon as Azaria read the final words, her strength left her and she crumpled to the ground.
Jezebel stooped down to caress her face and stroke her hair, her smile was sympathetic and full of sorrow.
"I'm sorry for tricking you," Jezebel closed her eyes and kissed Azaria's forehead "but the world need Azaria to die, so Rose could take life."
She rose again and turned her head. In the light at the entrance to the alleyway, she saw the same little boy Rose had spoken to before. She smiled at him, but he stepped backwards slightly.
"Witch?" he spoke in a small, frightened voice, she cocked her head at the address "did you kill her?"
Jezebel looked back at Rose's body. She nodded slowly. The boy did not move he only looked at the lifeless corpse before him.
"Would you like to keep her alive?" she offered, "she can't come back, but would you like her to be with you, in case you need her?"
He didn't move for a moment, pondering the offer, he then slowly nodded his head. Jezebel gave a small smile.
"I only need your name?"
"I see," Jezebel stood up straight and raised her arms.
Spirit of a Witch now passed,
Please answer to the request I ask.
Guide and protect a child,
Robert, a boy of nature mild.
Help him see to his destiny,
Even if it is unfortunate for me.
I call upon Rose's spirit in this hour,
Come down from the Deathly Tower,
Bless this boy with power
Spirit, Azaria, I seek your power.
She looked down at him again and smiled.
"It is done."
Robert ran away from her, he was afraid of something, but he did not know what.
He ran down the road, his mind screaming one word.
'Mummy! Mummy! I want mummy!'
Robert was enveloped in a light and he felt as though he would be blinded. When he opened his eyes again, he was at the entrance to the woods on the outskirts of the town; he turned around to see the entirety of the angry villagers looking at him.
It was only a fleeting moment before the first man yelled
The crowd quickly followed as they charged with their pitchforks and torches, Robert covered his face with arms and screamed in terror. Without a hint of hesitance, the torches blew out and the forks curled in on themselves, most of the villagers tossed away their former weapons, fearing a curse. They looked at the boy who was still cowering in fear and some nearly felt pity.
Until something began to happen.
The air began to form and mould itself until it took the form of a woman.
She appeared as a ghostly spectre, dressed in white with her eyes closed. When her eyes opened, there was no colour, but only power. She raised his arms high above her head and the earth beneath the villagers' feet tore open, sending everyone in a different direction.
Most of the villagers ran, but the men who remained grabbed all the weapons they could, but Azaria's power overthrew everything. They grabbed pitchforks that either shattered or curled up entirely in their hands, torches that burnt to stubs immediately and even stones and rocks turned to dust before they were thrown, or worse they were thrown back with vengeance.
Finally, Azaria began to dance in an elegant yet powerful fashion, as she did so the earth tore upwards into the air and became a wall that ran through much of the forest, separating Robert from any harm. Both sides of the wall were punctured with stone spikes and even the trees became safeguards against all those who trespassed.
Azaria was bound to protect Robert now, until her business was done.
However, Robert was marked by the magic used, a mark that would travel down his bloodline, to mark who Azaria had to protect.
A tiny white mark at the back of his neck, almost invisible to those who didn't look for it was the only thing that would always set Robert and his children apart for the rest of their lives.